I insert my hand into his gonchies, sliding along his thigh, past the skin of his saggy, damp balls in their bush of hair and cup his cock in my palm. I pull it out of his boxers and through the slit cut into the mud on his pants with scissors and shout in a commanding voice through the explosions of howitzers above our trench — «Piss!»
Only after this does the 20-year-old kid with runes tattooed all over his face and body, and fuzz on his upper lip, shut his eyes, finally letting go of his pointless shame, and begin to piss with ease, at length and profusely, under himself on the rubber stretcher. Sagging under the weight of his body, it’s already filled with a sizeable pool of his blood.
His limbs broken with three shrapnel punctures, he lay there and endured the application of tourniquets and the painfully deep tamponade of his wounds, fingers poking inside right up to the broken bones, but he was embarrassed to piss under himself, the way a teenager is embarrassed to take of his underpants in the gym change room in front of his classmates. Until I ordered him to do it.
«This is war. It’s always like that here,» I say, choosing a random amorphous phrase to calm him, because I can’t come up with anything better.
The evacuation is being held up. Next to him in the trench lies his friend. They probably enlisted together. Visually, it’s clear that they were from the same crowd: both have the same expensive body kit bought at M-Tac, similar tattoos, and a cool look. And of course, they both forgot to bolt their first aid kits. But I’m not passing judgment or condemning. Because things just happen…
To ease the tourniquets and reduce the risk of amputation, I take advantage of the delay in the evacuation to tamp their wounds some more and apply compression bandages. The tourniquets that a nearby fighter put on them aren’t tight enough. One has even been applied on top of the phone in the guy’s pocket. It’s a pretty standard mistake that I’ve come across a few times already.
When the puncture wounds are plugged with hemostatic sealants and aren’t soaking through any more, I agonize over how to tie the broken and twisted limbs together so that they lie compactly on the stretcher. Soon we’ll have to throw him in under a minute into the armored personnel carrier, which can’t stand around long in one place. A minute or two is more than enough to draw enemy fire. Our fortifications are being hammered by every possible caliber and choppers are buzzing around.
The boys got the shrapnel because they picked the wrong trench position in their ignorance, which, on top of everything else, they failed to dig out properly. Located on a slope, it had a high back wall, higher than the parapet in front of it, so when the shell blasted it, the fragments mutilated the bodies of the soldiers. I can’t take off the boys' plated vests because their arms are broken, so I have to cut the attachments and use the various plates to cover the most important organs: the ribcage and the crotch. I use the helmets to cover the faces to reduce any risk the next time a projectile flies in.
The blood-soaked clothing makes it hard to assess the nature of the injuries, where shrapnel entered and exited, so I cut the trousers with scissors and take off their boots.
Nearby, the third territorial defense guy has been keeping up with me, handing me the scissors and my paramedic bag, in which there are ever fewer supplies to work with.
As I tighten one of the tourniquets, the windlass rod starts to bend too much, almost into an S-shape, so that afterwards it’s impossible to attach it to the clip and the stabilization plate keeps twisting in all directions. It’s obviously a kludged tourniquet, so I have to apply mine next to it, from my own first aid kit, an original American CAT.
The air attacks start coming closer, so we have to crouch lower to the ground, pull the prone wounded men closer to the safer wall, and wait until we get a command over the radio.
Suddenly we hear the rumble of tracks and a series of small explosions. It’s our APC coming for us full-steam, running over the anti-personnel mines the russians have generously sprinkled on the approach to our positions using cluster projectiles. Moving as fast as we can down the narrow, poorly dug trenches, we haul the stretcher with the heavily wounded boy and threw him into the truck where the gunner stands, ready to help us. His half-naked body stretches on the APC in a twist like the martyr St. Sebastian.
Then we bring the second wounded man on one leg, holding his arm and toss him into the APC as well, which high-tails away before another round of shelling begins.
Feeling relieved at having done the job, Khotabych and I retreat to our «Sea» position, following the tracks of the APC so as not to blow ourselves up. Along the way, our feet kick at the mats and other personal items the soldiers lost when the wind tore them from the vehicle as it rushed to their positions.
Within an hour, we take advantage of the lull to remove two burned up bodies that have already been lying for two days in a huge pit. Before the shell hit it, it had been simply covered against the rain by a plastic sheet. Once Mykolayivka and Nyrkove became one of the hottest spots in the Severodonetsk cauldron — after Severodonetsk itself — because we were maintaining a lifeline to the city, this covering became useless because of its ill-thought-out location and unreliability, something those burned fighters had not considered.
We place their crisped corpses into a single black bag with the help of two other soldiers whom I keep ordering around on purpose, to keep their spirits from taking a nosedive: «Let's take our boys away. They died heroes, coming here to protect our lives.»
The burned up bodies stare at us with nearly white skin-covered sockets in which the eyeballs have been boiled out, preventing the mucous membrane from turning black. The rest of their remains are covered in a charcoal crust, their limbs little more than charred bones that we have to collect and add to the «200» bag. One corpse flops over when we raise the stretcher and falls sideways on its head. The skull hits something hard and the cranium breaks open, the upper part flying off like a lid. Inside, there’s nothing, just the white of bone.
What keeps me from breaking down here is the simple understanding of the future nature of existence and an ever-growing awareness of life in the universe. No imaginary gods, no devils, no Valhalla and no Hades. Only you, reality, the altruism of the war effort, and the willingness to sacrifice for the sake of future generations and the civilian population behind your back. And faith in Lend-Lease and heavy artillery from our allies, who alone can stop the destruction and death caused by the onslaught of the orcs.
All this describes just a few hours in the fight our brigade and units put up in unison to maintain a lifeline to Lysychansk and Severodonetsk. The villages of Mykolayivka and Nyrkove. Now all occupied.
Viktor, Donetsk region, originally from Rivne
Translator: Lidia Wolanskyj